Airman engineers new career with ANG

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tony Harp
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing

As an electrical engineer, Senior Airman Michele Reese, a power production cadre member at the Air National Guard Schoolhouse in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, uses logic and electrical schematics to help her troubleshoot equipment. These schematics and diagrams show a distinct signal flow, one that helps her pinpoint a specific problem and implement a solution.

Faulty equipment tend to have one specific problem with a coinciding solution.

While most of the problems Reese faces in the workplace can be solved through specifically mapped out diagrams, the problems that she faced to get to this point in her career were not quite as easy to map.

For Reese, problem solving through the use of logic seemed to always be in her nature and it played a role in mapping out her new career path.

Like many American workers in 2009, Reese found herself laid off due to the financial crisis the nation was going through. After losing a supervisory position at a local warehouse, she was determined to reinvent her career and start anew. 

For Reese, logic kicked in, she realized she would need an education if she wanted to succeed. She wanted to have something to fall back on if she did lose her job and she believed that while a job may be taken away, your education can not.

Shortly after losing her job at the warehouse, a local community college offered a program for recently displaced workers, providing their first semester tuition free. Reese decided to enroll in this program and work toward an associate degree in electrical construction. The practicality of this major was appealing to her and she figured if anything, she could work on her own house one day.

Upon graduation, Reese was out to market her new found education.

Here’s the rub, employers were also looking for job experience.

“I couldn’t find a job because any type of job I came across, required at least X amount of experience,” said Reese. “Just coming out of college with no experience, just school, you know, it wasn’t very inspirable.”

Again, Reese would have to logically figure out a way to add experience to her resume. Somehow she was in this paradox that many graduates face. She couldn’t acquire a job because she didn’t have experience, but she couldn’t acquire experience because she couldn’t acquire a job.

For Reese logic prevailed, she decided to join the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and on June 5, 2012, she departed for basic training.

She enlisted as an electrical power production technician to continue on with the electrical construction foundation she gained from college.

“I came out of basic training and tech school and realized, wow, I have all this confidence that, you know, they force in you in tech school and training,” said Reese. “I decided that I wanted to go ahead and pursue a bachelor’s degree. So again thinking about what I could do with electrical, I decided to go electrical engineering.”

Reese enrolled at Penn State University’s campus in Wilkes-Barre and acquired her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. During the three year process of going back to school, she also had her second and third child.

“My children are always and will be my motivation to continue to do better,” said Reese.

While going back to school, her husband worked third shift. They would trade off duties taking care of the children, sneaking in naps wherever they could.

“Getting through college with children was a challenge, staying up late, working on papers, lab reports and things like that,” said Reese.

Chief Master Sgt. Cynthia Schnelker, chief of the ANG Schoolhouse, commented on Reese’s work ethic toward her career.

“Her number one trait to me is grit,” said Schnelker. “She just perseveres and gets things done. And no matter how hard it is, she’s got that mental discipline to follow through.”

Upon graduation, Reese was hired as an electrical engineer at Lockheed Martin. Her schooling and job experience had finally paid off.

Her position with Lockheed Martin compliments her military job as it deals a lot in electrical schematics, drawings and diagrams. The new Bear Power Unit generators she works with at the ANG Schoolhouse are getting much more sophisticated with electronic components and computers. The more electronics involved, the more likely you will have to open up the schematics and electrical diagrams, said Reese.

Reese continues to challenge herself, currently she is working toward becoming commissioned and applied for an engineering officer position with the 201st RED HORSE Squadron, also at Fort Indiantown Gap.

“I think she brings so much to the table,” said Schnelker. “She’s a strong Airman who pursued and used the educational benefits and came out with a degree. Then instead of separating, she wants to pay back the unit by becoming an officer. To have her stick with the guard instead of leaving, is huge for us.”

With a very humble demeanor Reese downplays her accomplishments but credits her success to hard work and setting goals.

“The most important thing to have is a goal,” said Reese. “Without a goal I don’t see how you can possibly maintain a focus on anything. If you don’t have a goal, you are literally just pushing along without any type of direction.”

In hindsight, Reese believes that the loss of her warehouse job in 2009 could be considered a blessing in disguise. It opened the door for a chance to explore the military and gave her the opportunity to reach a new height in her career that she did not know was possible.